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2009: An Oscar Commentary

That about does it for 2008. A few surprises, mostly unpleasant, and some really fine moments, but overall this year’s Oscar show was definitely lacking . . . something. Let’s survey the damage:

I never really recovered my good humor after WALL-E lost the screenplay award to the execrable writing of Milk early in the show. Bad turned to worse as the best movie of the year had slight after slight piled on throughout the show, finally creeping out with one measly award, in a category it dominated without half-trying. I feel as though Schindler’s List just won Best Holocaust Film and nothing else (to put this in some kind of perspective). The Dark Knight didn’t do much better, walking off with two awards.

In any case, it was always going to be Slumdog Millionaire‘s night. In addition to Best Picture, Slumdog hauled in eight Oscars, the strongest showing by a film since The Return of the King swept its eleven awards five years ago. By way of comparison, Slumdog now joins an elite group of films including Gone With the Wind and Amadeus, and won more awards than Schindler’s List or Lawrence of Arabia. I liked it, sure, but that feels like a bit more love than it deserved. I suspect that the future backlash against this movie will be pretty extreme. In its favor, though, is the lack of strong alternatives in the category. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, with 13 nominations, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is tied for 2nd most-nominated film in Oscar history. In the end, though, it only won three rather minor awards, but made out pretty well in comparison to the other Best Picture nominees. Milk won two (which was more than I expected), while The Reader got a single award (a win at last for Kate Winslet) and Frost/Nixon went home completely empty-handed. Finally, The Duchess and Vicky Cristina Barcelona each got one award, and that’s all there was. Slumdog Millionaire really sucked all of the air out of the room.

Let’s take a quick look at how I did with my predictions, then declare this chapter of Oscar history closed. Last year I calculated that 9 of my original predictions were correct out of 16, while I got 12 right when I modified my picks later. This year, I got 8 out of 19 with my original batch, but brought it up to 14 when I reconsidered my picks today. I’m going to call that an improvement, even though it comes out about the same.

Full commentary continues below the fold.

Very strong start to the show with Hugh Jackman’s opening  monologue and a hilarious opening musical number. Watch the clip fast, I’m sure it won’t be up forever. Loved the gag about The Dark Knight snub and the bit at the expense of The Reader. We’re off to a smashing start to be sure.

Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, as predicted. I thought she was actually really good in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and I have no problem with this win, but none of the nominees moved me as much Viola Davis in Doubt. Side note: I liked what they just did, having five previous winners (Eva Marie Saint, Tilda Swinton, Anjelica Huston, Whoopi Goldberg, Goldie Hawn) introduce each nominee, but if they keep this up, it’s going to be a long night.

Best Original Screenplay: Announced by Steve Martin and Tina Fey . . . and it’s Milk. What a sick joke. This is absolutely the worst of the nominated screenplays. This is just a kick in the teeth. Original screenplay is on a major losing streak, what with the win by Juno last year. This will probably (hopefully) be the biggest disappointment of the evening. This award should have gone to either WALL-E or In Bruges, with no question. The WALL-E cartoon-ghetto-shutout begins.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire, as predicted. I wouldn’t have minded seeing this award go to either Frost/Nixon or Doubt, but this is not undeserved (and seems pretty good in comparison to the last award). The Slumdog sweep might have just begun. Stay tuned.

Best Animated Feature: Jack Black and Jennifer Aniston are presenting. I still say this category is a lock, or at least it had better be. Oh, but first we get a montage (which I’m kind of a sucker for). That one, however, was merely fair. But that’s okay, because WALL-E comes up to collect its award. If this is the only award it wins tonight, I will be dissatisfied, but at least not completely horrified. Meanwhile, Pixar’s “Presto” does not win the Best Animated Short award, and since that was the only nominee I saw, I have no comment.

Best Art Direction: Here come Daniel Craig and Sarah Jessica Parker (odd pair, that), and . . . The Curious Case of Benjamin Button wins the award, as predicted. Personally, I’d have gone with The Duchess, but movies nominated for their art direction all tend to look pretty gorgeous to me.

Best Costumes: The Duchess, as predicted. A well-deserved award, I have to say. I just saw this a few days ago, and on top of being a surprisingly enjoyable period piece, it was really quite lovely to look at (as indicated above).

Best Makeup: No surprise, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button becomes the first film to pick up multiple awards tonight. I definitely agree with this award . . . the makeup work on this film was incredible.

And now we get another montage, this one with a “Romance” theme announced by Robert Pattinson and Amanda Seyfried. This one was much better than the last one, actually (and also features WALL-E, so mad props for that).

Best Cinematography: The presenters are Ben Stiller (with the craziest beard ever . . . ah, I see, he’s mocking Joaquin Phoenix) and Natalie Portman. Okay, that went on a bit too long. On to the award, which goes to Slumdog Millionaire, as predicted. The sweep continues (well, okay . . . it’s 2 for 2. I guess that’s not really a sweep). I had a bit of a hope for The Dark Knight, which is well on its way to getting nothing, but there it is. Meanwhile, Stiller’s shenanigans took up that whole segment and now we’ve got a commercial break.

I’ve spotted the “story” we were told the ceremony would have. They’re handing out awards roughly in the order of actual movie production. Not a bad idea, I guess, but I’m hardly on the edge of my seat. This just goes on and on without any major awards presentations for a good half-hour or more. There was a pretty great musical montage song-and-dance number, but overall the show’s middle has sagged pretty badly, with a lame skit by Seth Rogen and James Franco as the Pineapple Express stoners and lots of commericals.

Best Supporting Actor: At long last, and a great choice to revive this thing. They are repeating the five presenter format, though. We’ve got Alan Arkin, Kevin Kline, Cuba Gooding Jr., Christopher Walken, and Joel Grey (of Cabaret). I don’t mind this idea, actually, time-sink considerations aside, but there’s one problem: They aren’t showing clips of the actual performances. This is a huge mistake. I hardly even need to confirm that the award goes to Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight. His mother, father, and sister are accepting.  They look like they’re going to make everyone in the theater cry. Great moment.

Best Documentary: Having Bill Maher as presenter is an inane touch. And he is being inane. He didn’t make a documentary. He is definitely my pick for “Tackiest Presenter” of this year, and possibly of any year. But, enough . . . after all, as he keeps reminding us, he wasn’t nominated. The award goes to Man on Wire, as predicted. I just finished watching this before the ceremony started, and it really was astounding. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The director has called Philippe Petit (his star) up onto the stage for some rather delightful antics. He just balanced the statue on his chin, head down! Awesome. I didn’t see any of the Documentary Short Subject pieces, so no comment.

Oh, wow. That was a very cool special effects montage, just for the record.

Best Visual Effects: Will Smith presents the award to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (as predicted). I can’t say this wasn’t deserved, but it is becoming less and less likely that The Dark Knight will walk out of here with more than one award, and that’s a shame. Worst of all, I now dread the sound awards, which will presumably either shut The Dark Knight or WALL-E down.

Best Sound Editing: And it’s The Dark Knight, which I have to say I really disagree with. It was great and all, but Ben Burtt created a whole scenes of dialogue with his magnificent mastery of sound. I am really, really disappointed. With great trepidation, we move on to . . .

Best Sound: It went to Slumdog Millionaire. Because that won’t be taking home enough awards tonight. I’m going to go out on a limb and resign myself to the fact that the best movie of the year will go home with a single throwaway award.

Best Editing: Anyone could have guessed this one . . . Slumdog Millionaire wins for most editing. Err, best. I meant best. That’s just sour grapes from me, at this point, though. I don’t think I have anything else to look forward to now, so I need to just relax, but I won’t be able to keep from getting my hopes up for WALL-E‘s ultra-slim chances in the music categories.

Oh, now the Academy is recognizing Jerry Lewis for the first time ever (for his muscular dystrophy charity work). That’s nice. Here comes a medley of nominated scores . . . that’s nicer! I must admit, I’m a real softie for movie music. I guess that means it’s time for . . .

Best Original Score: Bizarrely, we’ve got Zac Efron and Alicia Keys on the stage. The award goes to Slumdog Millionaire, as predicted. All of the music was beautiful, I won’t lie. I wanted Thomas Newman to win, but I knew he wouldn’t. Newman never wins, despite being the best composer currently working in the movies. With ten nominations in the past 15 years, he still hasn’t gotten an award.

Best Original Song: Before we hear the winner, we’ve got to watch this short medley that we heard so much about (Peter Gabriel refused to sing “Down to Earth” when he was asked to shorten it down to a minute or less; considering how much this show has been padded so far, I’m offended for his sake). The replacement singer is mangling it, adding insult to injury. Really, this sounds awful. And now they’re mixing the three songs, to terrible effect. Bad idea, poor execution. Anyway, the award goes to “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire (as predicted). And that’s it. WALL-E goes home with one pathetic little award. Slumdog Millionaire, on the other hand, is just getting started.

Best Foreign Language Film: We’ve got Liam Neeson and Freida Pinto announcing this one. Winner: Okuribito. This is a surprise just because I had no idea what was going on in this category, but all the buzz was around Waltz with Bashir.

This is unique. Queen Latifah is singing “I’ll Be Seeing You” over the deceased Academy members montage. It’s actually sounds really good.

Best Director: Reese Witherspoon is opening the envelope, which tells her to say Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire (as predicted). I like Danny Boyle, and I like his work. I think that, of the nominated directors, his was the strongest nomination. I wouldn’t have minded seeing David Fincher win, certainly, but he’s done better. Great speech from Boyle, and a very worthy award-winner (at last).

Best Actress: We’ve got Halle Berry, Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, and Shirley MacLaine presenting, but I’m still really missing the clips of the performances. Why would they cut those out? Anyway, the award goes to Kate Winslet for The Reader, as predicted. I really felt that Melissa Leo deserved this award for Frozen River, but the plain fact is, Winslet is overdue, and I’ve hoped for her to win for a number of previous roles. You won’t hear me complaining. Another great speech, and now things are actually picking up as we near the end of the show.

Best Actor: They’ve brought out the big guns for this award: Robert DeNiro, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Hopkins, Adrien Brody, and Michael Douglas. That’s the best line-up of the night. How are they going to top that with the next presentation? Anyway, the award goes to Sean Penn for Milk. This is a surprise, to me at least. It’s not really a surprise, because it was either Penn or Rourke, but I had myself genuinely convinced that it would be Rourke for The Wrestler. Not to minimize Penn’s performance (which was really quite good), but politics wins the day. The award should have gone to Langella for Frost/Nixon or Jenkins for The Visitor, but it was never going to. I’m surprisingly annoyed by his speech. Enough already.

Best Picture: At long last, Steven Spielberg emerges to lay this show mercifully to rest. But first, we get one last really cool montage of the Best Picture nominees, each one mixed with bits of similarly-themed films. And the big winner of the night is and continues to be . . . Slumdog Millionaire, as predicted. No surprises here as Slumdog Millionaire finishes its “dream run.” I have no complaints, considering what was in this category. It wasn’t my favorite film, or even my favorite nominee, but it was a good movie that I genuinely enjoyed.

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~ by Jared on February 22, 2009.

One Response to “2009: An Oscar Commentary”

  1. […] h/t:  Moviegoings […]

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